AGING, Breast cancer, Women

THE AGING PROCESS

“Never get old,” the lovely woman with the kindest eyes and smile announced to me as we both found ourselves in the bra section of Target this past week. I was not really in the bra section, but the pajama bottoms I was looking for happened to be neighbors with the bras and underwear. A double mastectomy and reconstruction removes the need for the bra section.
The woman was one of those older women who was sprite and active, but as I watched her stand in front of the rows and rows of bras looking overwhelmed, she gave me pause.

“I’m ninety-five.” She said this as so many aging people do, stating their age to get the desired reply of, Wow, you look amazing. This woman did look incredible; in fact any woman out shopping alone at the age of ninety-five, as spry and together as she was, deserved the compliment. 
“Too bad you don’t live in Florida,” I said jokingly, “I could fix you up with my 102 year old grandfather.” She didn’t hear me and had already moved on to the sales girl who was trying to help her with the utmost patience and kindness. Go target sales girl, go.

I was reminded of the old time place my grandmother used to go to called Jean Belson in Boston back in the day when women actually got fitted for bras as a normal part of their lives. Before pushups and wireless took hold of our breasts and rib cages. This lovely lady looked like the type of woman who would have used stores like that, but now realized that this was a thing of the past for the most part and found herself in Target. Why she would even be buying a bra from my hippie chick perspective as I watched her astonished me. Ninety-five should be a free pass to go bra-less always, but this woman wasn’t that type of woman who would even consider this, I imagined. I was guessing she had outlived her husband as so many women her age have and was just trying to keep herself active and busy. Buying bras on a random day was another thing to do to occupy her time and have a purpose for her day. She looked like she was there solo, so I am also guessing that she is still driving.

The aging process comes out of nowhere. One minute you can’t imagine ever talking about aches and pains and the next minute you find yourself talking about your next doctor’s visit for some test they want you to have because of indigestion. These kind of discussions used to drive both of my grandmothers crazy. I can still hear my grandmother Isabelle telling her brother Eddie, “When someone asks you, Eddie, ‘How are you,’ you just say, ‘Fine;’ people don’t want to hear your belly aching.” Isabelle could not tolerate going out with her peers if they only spoke of their next doctor’s visit. She used to say that there were so many world events to discuss, why would people want to complain about their health issues all the time?

Aging sneaks up on you. One health scare, one surgery, and you are catapulted into the world of mortality. Life becomes shorter, more urgent, and you find yourself thinking Life is short with a vengeance. It starts with your eyesight. You need reading glasses all of a sudden. Next thing you are at the doctor’s office for a routine exam and your blood pressure is a little higher than normal or your blood tests came back with your cholesterol or sugar a little peaked. “We’ll keep an eye on this,” you hear your doctor say in the follow up phone call. This, of course, is code word for if you don’t get your shit together, it’s pharmaceutical time. There seems to be a pill for everything these days and many of the people I know are taking them with barely a question about the long term effects.

To each their own, though. Diet and exercise are barely talked about as a remedy for anything these days and even if one finds themselves in a doctor’s office where the doctor is recommending this, the patient would have to listen and take action where a pill seems so much more convenient. I get the temptation and another great part of aging is I have removed myself from the high horse I used to ride in lecturing people about the alternatives. Who the hell am I anyway? I was diagnosed with breast cancer twice in four years, so I surely have no credibility when it comes to preaching health and wellness equaling health and wellness.

The aging that is happening to me, as this fifty-four year old chick, is more subtle. I can hear my sixty-nine year old friends saying, “54? You are just a babe in the woods, just wait.” But the subtleties are making their way, inviting themselves to my body without being asked and the process is an interesting one. Frankly, this all started with my surgeries. Surgical menopause at fifty to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes as preventative measures created symptoms of rapid fire hot flashes. I got through those, but now four years later they have turned into accelerated hair growth, not on my head, and bloating that is no joke. Everyone said it would happen, but I never thought it would. Besides the physical (and, I realize, completely cosmetic and superficial), there is the psychological whirlwind that has made me reconsider my life going forward.

What do I want? What do I need? What do I care about? What is important? And toggling between blowing all cares to the wind thinking that maybe my life is shorter than most and the what if I do live as long as my grandfather? When I meditate which has become almost a daily occurrence these days, the still small voice is getting louder with all kinds of messages about my future plans. Louder and louder giving me ideas about minimizing all my accumulations, like do I really need two shelves filled with Wonder Woman paraphernalia? Marie Kondo would have a field day with me as recently she seems to be the go to gal for all things declutter. I know what I need to do and it is extreme. This is how I roll though, all or nothing. I fantasize about not only removing half of my crap, but more so lately all social and technology. I was going to make a list of all of the technological distractions both mentally and financially, but part of me simply doesn’t want to know how much money and time I am wasting my life away on.

My precious life. My iPhone recently has gotten in the habit of letting me know at weeks end how much time I spent on all things phone and it is pretty frightening especially if I add it up over a life time. Time wasting used to be television time, but these days the world has their heads down and there doesn’t seem to be any going back to the ‘good old days.’

Aging is part uphill, part downhill and for the most part it is thrilling. The days, recently, that it hasn’t been is when I look down and see a bloating stomach and can’t attribute it to anything, or the rush to the bathroom because holding it isn’t what it used to be. Damn I wish I had listened to the Kegel advice from the old Cosmopolitan magazines when I was in my twenties before babies. The hairs sprouting, the wrinkles appearing, the interesting things happening to my neck all make for the best part. Looking at the young girls and knowing that that lovely ass and smooth wrinkle free skin is a fleeting moment in time for everyone. No one gets out alive, no one doesn’t age unless they don’t get out alive. I enjoy watching youth as much as I enjoy watching aging. Both give great gifts of reminders of the past and the time travel to the future.

For the most part, I am great. These new boobs have been mostly smooth sailing as I haven’t had the challenges so many women who decided to reconstruct have had. The horror stories are abundant, but in my case I had a perfect experience. The downside is that they are here with me and I know they are not part of my organic makeup. This makes them constant reminders of the past keeping that inner voice talking to me about plans of action for what and who I want to be when I grow up. This time though, growing up isn’t as far away as it used to be.

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THE INVISIBLE PLANE

THE INVISIBLE PLANE

Remember Wonder Woman’s invisible plane? We used to laugh at it because even though the plane was invisible, Wonder Woman wasn’t and it seemed like a blatant error in media judgement. For some reason though we accepted the artistic liberty of it and just went with the story line.

We sat around my front porch this past Friday eve and the dinner table last night drinking Proseco and cold French white wine eating clam cakes from Quitos and shrimp cocktail from Blount Seafood. We had our lawn chairs on the sidewalk waiting for the British Car Show parade that for the second time never came down past our street causing us lots of discussion and laughter among friends. Mostly women with the exception of three very secure men, sharing company and stories, connecting in the way friends do who have made each other’s lives more humbled and joyful in a familial sort of way. We ranged in age from early fifties to mid seventies and talked about everything from town politics and pets to great restaurants, travel and of course our children and the aging process. We all had our say in the sagging of our skin, the bloating of our midsections, the changing of our hair textures and the subject of invisibility.

My personal perch of owning a business that mostly connects with women as its main profile are the daily conversations we have- rich with truth and wisdom that only aging can produce. “We can’t eat like we used to.” “Should I keep coloring my hair or let it go natural?” “What is the recipe for….?” We all feel lucky, blessed, privileged and for the most part are a happy lot who have dealt with the blows living a full life gives us. We rise up and stand up and with the wisdom of retrospect that only aging can really give us, seize the day and squeeze the most out of life knowing that it is all just a speck on the planet.

One common stream of commentary is the subject of invisibility, not being noticed as we once were. What does being noticed even mean and what does being noticed even have to do with how we move through our days? It seems to be that our aging bodies and skin no longer gets the head turning or the shout outs from the construction workers as we walk by them on our way to the coffee shop. At one point in our more youthful lives, these hoots and hollers were actually uncomfortable, but oddly externally validating as young women who didn’t realize in their youth that post babies it would come to abrupt ending sooner than later.

Does being invisible mean not being noticed by our male counterparts at the rate we in our younger lives were accustomed to? I don’t think this is what we were talking about because let’s face it if we needed that for self validation we need more therapy than we ever thought. Invisibility is more subtle, and I can’t really put it into words but here is the part of it that I like. The freedom of it. The glorious liberation of putting on my bathing suit and going to the beach with all of the bloat, the scars, the lopsided boobs and knowing that the only person I need to please is the one wearing the bathing suit. The freedom of answering to one person, me, making decisions about my life, my investments, my finances and spending and savings habits. The choices of where and when to travel, when to write or exercise or cook and shop. If invisibility means that I get to live the rest of my days in my own invisible plane flying with my own compass, then I will take it. I like the notion that the truths and wisdoms that can only happen with age and life experiences also equate with being under the radar and not having to justify my space on the planet to anyone but myself.

The women I am blessedly connected with are finding themselves in this unique story too and there is a coming out while going in that makes our connections so much more special and valid. We fly solo but together as we continue to unveil more of our truths and vulnerabilities the deeper we are in each other’s company. If this is what becoming invisible means, Yep. I’ll take it.


waiting for the car parade that never came down Constitution St for the second time proving again that women should rule the world and organize all events and instruction to the men leading the pack. and then meeting up at the park to actually see the cars we had been waiting for.
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THE PRIVILEGE OF HEALTH

THE PRIVILEGE OF HEALTH

ME: Grandpa, do you want to go lie down for a bit? (he had been falling asleep at the table after finishing breakfast this morning)

GRANDPA (AKA HERBIE): That may be a good idea.

ME: Yes. Why not.

HERBIE: Yeah. I got time.

Herbie, my grandfather is 100 and four months. This is a positive outlook at its best. Everyday he wakes up it is another day he wakes up. This must seem like a surprise to him, but I don’t know that. It has never been a surprise in my consciousness until this visit as I consider that every day he wakes up is another day I get to have him in my life. I don’t usually think in terms of the literal day to day appreciation of waking up. Sure I am grateful for each day, but because I am young and healthy, for the most part I get to assume that tomorrow will be available to me and the next day. When you are 100, I am guessing that this may not be the case.

I suggested that from now on we have a birthday cake every day to celebrate his life because seriously every day is, well, every day.

My grandfather is a bad ass I have decided. Not the kind that you may think of like my friend’s grandparents who grew up in the tough neighborhoods or were boxers or fighters, but the type of fighter that has the grit in his core. I love this trait. Grit. He is the son of a man who made his way alone to America from Russia in the late 1800s. His mother too was a Russian immigrant and because I was born to such young parents I actually knew both of them. My grandfather was drafted in WWII. He was an entrepreneur, a textile mill owner in Fall River, Mass back when Fall River made things. A fiscal example of frugality, but intense generosity, a charitable mix of practicality and reasonable behavior, my grandfather’s approach to life is summed up by his favorite five words, “It is what it is.” At my brother’s funeral he at 78 having lost his first born grandson who was only 25 to a rare form of lung cancer got up to speak at our informal gathering. “Michael was too young to die, but he did.” I will never forget those simple words filled with the essence of his belief system that life goes on despite itself.

It is interesting to sit on my perch and watch the de-birth of someone. His body curves naturally into a fetal position as his shoulders hunch a little more each time I see him. His baby fine hair easily mats and he gets messier every time he eats. He sleeps a lot and his appetite grows smaller each day. It is like watching a new baby but opposite. He needs the walker more and when his legs are causing more and more discomfort, he uses the wheelchair more often to alleviate the pain. It is backwards infancy. This is the only way I can explain what I am witnessing. I am a voyeur of sorts as I get to watch this without having to do anything other than be in his company. He has 24/7 care and my visits are nothing but love and cooking for him. This gives me the gift of a vacation as well as a visit and I feel really lucky for his conservatism with money all those years before now.

When I am visiting the weather is always an improvement from the north so outdoor running, walking and beaching is my personal threesome of love. I try to run each day to increase my distance because no matter how much I run on the treadmill in the winter cold, the pavement is completely different. The first step outside feels like I have done zero cardio for the entire winter as my heart speeds and my breath grows heavier with each stride. I wear no headphones or music, got rid of this nuisance a long while ago as I found it completely distracting. To each their own because I know there are many of my friends who can’t imagine running without sound. I enjoy the sound of my heart and my breath; it is meditative and allows for deep appreciation as I try for longer and longer distances each of the days I am blessed to be in sunny Siesta Key in the cold New England March of unpredictability. As much as I get out and exercise, I have found my thoughts interesting in the day to day decision making of going for the run. I don’t really love running, but I love the results of running and this is the draw.

On my way down here, I have all kinds of plans, run every day, train for a 5k, eat healthy, blah blah blah. This is my perpetual mantra and I strongly visualize myself at the tail end of the week completing all of my self imposed rules and regs. What strikes me is the mind fuck that happens as my brain starts its campaign on rationalizing why I don’t need to run. “I am achy from yesterday,” (boo fucking hoo). “I cut my finger cooking today,” (I know that one is a stretch, but complete transparency here). “I don’t want to miss a good parking spot at the beach,” (since the temperature gauge is reading 58 right now, I am guessing this is a non issue). “I want to get my writing in and the morning is usually the time,” (well let’s see, I woke up at 5:00am so I’m guessing there is plenty of time). “I want to cook for Herbie,” (read previous rationale). So here I sit, watching the thermometer slowly (very slowly) climb to a meager 60; the sky is clear and blue and it looks like it is about 75 out, but the air is cold. I have baked blueberry cake, prepped dinner for tonight, made my lunch for today and the weekend’s beach visits, gone for a run (2 miles thank you very much) and done some stretching and a ten minute tabata workout. And it is only 9:40am.

As I sit here writing this today, with the sound of my grandfather snoring over the baby monitor that has become the background noise of his house, I reflect on these excuses. I know that his example, combined with the loss of my brother so young as well as my own health bumps in the road, health is an innate privilege. When you have the freedom to move, the advantages are something that commands the movement. I have had the times when I have not been able to move at the pace I have wanted. Many promises pour from my soul as I make the pacts with the universe promising regular exercise when if and when I ever feel good enough to do so again. The privilege of health is my own connection with a higher power and despite the wacky brain excuses that arise, I usually find my way around them. I do this in honor of my brother, in reverence to my grandfather and even more the respect to my own health and body that I have been blessed with for these soon to be fifty three years.

Now I am ready for my beach day. So lucky and healthy and I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.


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OH SHIT IT HAPPENED

OH SHIT IT HAPPENED

As clear as a bell I remember the nanosecond moment when I delivered my son and the energy in the room shifted from a couple to a family. It was a momentous experience, one of those nuggets that almost felt like the description people give when they almost leave us, but come back. The image of the three of us taking a gigantic step across the line and turning to wave goodbye to what was. This is life, those spectacular moments drizzled into the mundane to keep you alert and awake. There isn’t an abundance of these which is what makes them all so special.

So I am at the gym last week, biking as fast as I can to Kathy belting out some crazy Kathy order that she must think of when she is drinking the night before to torture us. The music is loud and pulsing and so was my heart. I am sweating and I just can’t believe that the rest of the lineup is going faster than I am, but they are and they do and I don’t give a shit. No matter how much I work out and how clean I eat and how much alcohol I no longer drink, I realize loud and clear that I will never be them. This is fucking liberating and if I were drinking I’d drink to that. At the end of the spin, as we all tried to catch our breath and wipe the water dripping from our faces called sweat, I said one of my favorite quotes taken from my friend, “Like hampsters on a wheel.” The two lovely slightly overachiever type blonde ladies to my left turned their heads in agreement and laughed. I continued with, “It never seems to get easier.” Then they took the conversation baton and began talking about the weight topic that I am happy to be free from frankly. I asked them how old they were so I could commiserate with our similarities in not being able to eat whatever whenever anymore. “32!” they chirped. OMG 32. I quickly calculated and realized that I was just getting ready to deliver Michael when I was 32. I could be their mother! “I’m 52.” I said trying to stay a part of the conversation but knowing that it was a lost cause. We likely didn’t have much in common as we got off of our spin bikes. “52?” they exclaimed! “You don’t look 52, you look great!” (Must be the tits, I wanted to say, but didn’t, so proud of me).

What does that even mean? What does a 52 year old look like? I know they meant it as a compliment because I know I look good. I fucking better. I spend exorbitant amounts of money on a boutique gym rather than a monthly membership at the Y where all the classes you could ever want (but don’t) are included. I mostly take care of my insides, therapy, stretching, roller classes, meditation and organic eating as often as possible. I am bored reading what I just wrote because frankly I don’t do any of it for how I appear outwardly. It is all for my mental state. Like about 90% of it is for my mind to settle down from its non stop yapping. This notion was a revelation for me when I unknowingly made the jump from working out to look good to working out to feel good. As we inspected each other, warning here, I tend to look at women’s skin because no matter how much they work out, if they don’t take care of their skin all the tight asses in the world will not do much to lessen the damage, I realized that I crossed another one of those invisible lines to say goodbye to.

This did not leave me feeling a loss or any sadness, but gratitude that I don’t have to deal with my 32 year old head trying to live up to the fantasy of “perfect mom, wife, employee, human.” ever ever again. Hallelujah! Don’t get me wrong, I loved that part of my life, but I am one of those moms who loved every single age of my son and still do. I don’t miss any of the ages, I don’t wish for their return and I love watching my son go through his self discovery stages. I welcome the present and the future and am grateful for the past. Though I do miss the four year old little hand in my hand age and the early morning smell of my baby, nothing ever like that again for sure.

Then I realized another line crossed. I am the 52 year old who I used to look at and semi admire when I began doing low impact aerobics in the eighties at the Newport Athletic Club, after Jane Fonda lost her zazzle in my living room. I started to tell them about how I remember being their age and being able to eat whatever I wanted and then give it up for a few days and bounce right back to the five pounds lighter. I lost them as they likely began to roll their eyes at the mom trigger and they continued on with their conversations about the latest Pottery Barn catalogue or something. Just kidding, they weren’t talking about that, but they could have been.

The oh shit it happened list is endless. I don’t know if it is because the surgical menopause is catching up with me almost three years later, but hair is sprouting at a rate that I can’t describe and not on my head. That hair, that luscious mane has now decided that it wants to look like it is perpetually flat ironed. Lynn, my current hair dresser let me know that the zero humidity in the air could be playing a role, but also, yep she said it, age too. Then there are those weird lines forming around my upper lip that when I catch myself not smiling it feels as if my cheeks are sinking into my mouth causing my lips to disappear. My hair is so white now that when I look at a picture of myself even from three years ago, I look so much younger because of the color. To even contemplate coloring my hair, which I never would, is hilarious since the growth of it would cause me to have to color my hair about every three days. There is the perpetual wake ups throughout the night. There is the forgetting where I put my keys, my phone, my 18 lipsticks. Then there is the deep need to feel comfortable all of the time. Shoes, pants, underwear, socks, I have moved to the place of feeling tortured if I am not in comfortable clothes. I envy my friends who wake up and get dressed in actual real clothes and look like they enjoy it. I don’t except if I go out to dinner or something, but even then I still go to comfort first these days. Then there is the pee factor. I sneezed the other day and I swear, I can’t even say it aloud. I wish I had done more kegels like Cosmo told me. Is it too late to start kegels now? Then there is the puffiness, the bloating, the change of body shape. Holy shit, I realize could I be turning into my mother’s body? No way, she never worked out, she smoked and she was and likely still is a daily drinker. This is not me. I am not her. Whew. Well at least in all of this natural change that happens when we have the privilege of being alive is just that.

The next phase. It may be happening at the speed of light, but I seriously am not complaining at all about it. I think it is kind of amusing and I love the perch that I sit on as I knowingly watch the 32 year olds try to keep it together in their young mama phases. I march forth as I move into my mid fifties at the blink of a smaller eye (yes this happens too, where did my nice big brown eyes go off to?) I watch my dearest friend get ready to turn 75 and wonder if she feels the same way about me like I do about the 32 year olds. Just like you can’t tell any first time expecting mom about how her life is going to be changing in her fantasy world she gets to live in for nine months, a 52 year old woman with brand new 36ds can’t tell a 32 year old about what is to come. This they have to find out for themselves and this is what makes aging fun. The knowing that this too will pass on to something different and as long as I am alive, I will rock whatever time I have.

yes.